Migrants in Chicago: Churches begin taking in migrants as part of Mayor Johnson's initiative

Thursday, November 30, 2023
Chicago migrants move out of police stations and into churches
Chicago migrants who have been staying in police stations are now moving into the city's churches.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The first busloads of Chicago migrants started moving out of police stations and into churches Wednesday, as part of the city's Unity Initiative, which hopes to find proper shelters for all of the new arrivals.

Eighty migrants moved from the District 5 Police Station into four different churches in the city.

"Again, it's not just housing, it's hope, and that's the key we want walk alongside them, work with them establish them, move them on because we know that there's more buses coming," said Pastor John Zayas of Grace and Peace Church.

The new arrivals, with their belongings, loaded onto a couple of waiting buses provided by church groups and were then taken to the next temporary shelters, including the KLEO Center in Washington Park. That center is housing 20 people with another 20 staying next door at the Life Center Church.

"Now that the weather has changed drastically we definitely need to step up and give them a warm place to lay their heads and to be able to feel safe. So here at the KLEO Center that's what we're all about, I mean or mission is to keep loving each other," said Torrey Barrett, CEO.

More churches are opening their doors to Chicago migrants, offering them safe and warm places to stay as winter sets in and they look for work and stability.

For Billy Espinosa, the first night somewhere soft, safe and warm in recent memory feels comfortably unfamiliar as he settled into his cot. He tried to piece together what English he's picked up since arriving in Chicago to describe it.

"Thank you so much for this place," he said.

"It's amazing how resilient these families are, even the individuals that are coming. Every goal is the same: survival, and that chance of that American dream that we're all living," said Jerico Brown, senior pastor at Renewal Life Church.

It is all part of Mayor Brandon Johnson's Unity Initiative, announced Tuesday, with migrants moving into church shelters.

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Seventeen churches are opening their doors to house and feed migrants, funded by $350,000 in private donations at no cost to the taxpayer.

The goal is to have the migrants stay in the churches for 60 days and then hopefully transition to living on their own.

For a number of the asylum seekers, it's a day to smile about.

"We won't be very cold, we will be warm," said migrant Jeily Rosa Ortiz Ramos. "The temperature was very hard and so we appreciate being removed from that situation and brought here to this church."

What they are really hoping for is a job, so they don't have to rely on anyone else.

"Tonight, you know we'll assess them, we'll process them here, figure out what type of skill sets that they have, some we'll try to put to work immediately, others we'll try to get them some training programs so they can become a productive part of the city of Chicago," said Barrett.